Even though the following text is my personal opinion, my concern while working for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which has an emphasis on sustainable solutions to address hunger and poverty, are not the multinational companies. My main concern is the public sector in developing countries that are doing research on resolving obstacles and problems in crops of interest to developing countries. I’m talking of crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, bananas, beans, rice, and others. I’m talking about research searching for resistance to fungi, bacteria, viruses, insects and weeds. I’m also talking about the search for innovative solutions that incorporate GMOs and any other technology which adequately demonstrate their value.
Interesting examples of what I am talking about are the ongoing effort to develop fungal and bacterial resistant banana varieties and drought tolerant maize in Africa, insect resistant cow pea, or the Strigaway project at AATF in Africa. The latter is a quite fascinating project as it does use a herbicide tolerant maize variety whose seed is coated with the herbicide to control enough the pernicious weed Striga at the beginning of the crop season, control is just enough to allow maize foliage coverage. No herbicide is needed afterward. Although this has not been a quite successful story as it does introduce other management issues, the important lesson is indeed finding alternatives for poor farmers in developing countries.
For the record, I know that much -or even most of the – experience in advanced technologies such as biotechnology lies in the private sector. So I tend to look at multinationals as part of the solution, not part of the problem. This means engaging in productive dialogue to channel that potential to solve out multiple problems in a way that advances their and our goals.
What I can say, based on my professional experience evaluating these technologies in different parts of the world, is that the adoption of existing GM technologies has brought real benefits for many producers in the world. In many cases, the net benefits are positive for producers who have adopted and even for the country or region that have adopted such technology. Therefore, each GM technology should be considered individually by the society, and not rule out in advance their benefit based on ideologies and / or pre-conceived positions. We cannot close the door to any valuable technological options especially at this point in time where we are at a critical juncture for food production globally. Here we have to put wisdom and prudence up-front and begin investing in agricultural innovation and the biomass production system, to see the results twenty years in the future.